Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Cheap shots or sheep shops?

“Laughing at religious people and doctrines for being mad, bad and dangerous gives us the comfort of thinking that, unlike them, we are sane, good and peaceful. Good stand-up makes us question ourselves: but the contemporary ridicule of religion fails to do that. Instead, it just narcissistically affirms that we were right all along. It is not edgy, original or insightful. One might even be tempted to call it preaching to the converted.”
Says who?
Says a bloke called Patrick McKearney.
Who is he?
Well, apparently…..
“Patrick McKearney is studying for an MPhil in theology and religious studies at Cambridge University. A scholar of the Cambridge Interfaith Programme and Queens' College, he is researching the implications of the contemporary ridicule of religion.”
I am half-tempted to add “…or is he just taking the piss?”
No, but seriously folks, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/jun/21/stand-up-comedy-religion and see if, like those he takes aim at, your jesting about the faithful amounts to more than
“tedious repetition of generic, flat-pack criticisms”.
I don’t for a second accept that of, say, Stewart Lee or a very few other comic talents. But I would admit acute boredom these days reading the kneejerk comments in reaction to stories on some of my old favourite secular sites, and wondering what closed minds came up with them.
On the other hand, I wonder how Mr McKearney got public subsidy to be at one of the world’s most elite colleges just wondering if the sky will fall in because the general public are less than reverent about a gaggle of gents in frocks who take themselves far more seriously than the rest of the world does?
Maybe his Imaginary Invisible Friend really does move in mysterious ways. Or maybe we live in an unequal society, still over-respectful of superstition, where purveyors of bible bunkum just have more sway with those who hand out grants and allot university places than they should. And it is also worth noting the close links between, say, the Cambridge Interfaith Foundation and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which no sensible person has any faith in.
Funnily enough though, I read elsewhere of David F. Ford, one of the founders of the Cambridge Interfaith Foundation, that “He is highly regarded for his scholarship, wit and humour.’’
Shame his students and staff are not similarly blessed then.
No, but seriously, that is a cheap quip, and Mr M offers a valid challenge. The best humour does not enshrine prejudice and encourage lazy thinking, but strips away the pretensions and shortcomings of the powerful and, if really good, pulls out the rug from below our feet too. Where McKearney’s polemical argument collapses, as I hinted earlier, is that it fails to recognise the institutional power and privilege of religion, and settles instead for the whiney tone of other religious spoilt brats asked to share their toys.
But do we just mock comfortably from the distance, training our sights only on the less educated religious, or could we make better jokes that batter away at the privilege, reveal the links to power?
Interesting challenge. I may well take it up, and I hope others will too.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Wowsers on the wagon

Today's ‘recommendation’ by yet another bunch of prod-nosed piss-artists that older people ought to go teetotal (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-13863196 ) has, quite rightly, been greeted with contempt by anyone with an ounce of sense. See Chris Snowdon’s reaction at Velvet Glove, Iron Fist (http://velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.com/2011/06/wont-somebody-please-think-of-old.html) for one of the bluntest, most succinct.
Mind you, the Beeb report does quite handily sort out some clueless, self-serving busybodies (Age UK, Alcohol Concern…) from those with more respect for the aged. It also highlights just how much time government agencies waste hectoring those who pay their wages, instead of just doing their job and being of genuine public service.
And what a bunch of puritan pillocks modern psychiatrists are compared to their predecessors in the heyday of that, now almost redundant, profession.
When I first read one of today’s reports, and after I’d finished laughing at all this codswallop posing as 'social concern', it struck me that, back in the days when I worked in those long gone old school mental hospitals that liberals shudder just thinking about, today's ‘recommended maximum daily intake’ was actually less than many patients could get on prescription. I should explain that in those days it was quite common for some of the old boys to get a bottle of Guinness off the medicine trolley.
Yes, really!
Not only that, but once a week, as a student nurse, it was my not-so-solemn duty to accompany a gang of our more mobile long term clientele to the local pub for a couple of hours, where we all got half-cut and struggled back up the hill to the hospital before the front door was locked at 10 PM.
The nub of today’s problem is summed up well by Emma Soames, editor of Saga magazine, who comments: "I think people will be infuriated by this. It's described as a public health problem, it's actually a private health matter."
As Chris Snowdon acidly puts it: “There are, let's face it, only two things that are likely to cause poor health: bad luck and bad habits. You can't do anything about the first and the second is entirely a matter for the individual. Those who interfere in private behaviour do not deserve to be described as part of a public health movement. Call them anything you like—busybodies, wowsers, puritans, zealots, neo-prohibitionists—but don't go along with the charade that the private is public.”
“Busybodies, wowsers, puritans, zealots, neo-prohibitionists”…that only just begins the list of alternative titles we could award to the local amateurs setting such policy for the Manx government.
And given half a chance, they will.

Monday, 20 June 2011

This squib just got damper

A month ago (see Another year, another damp squib) I mentioned that Firestarter, the excruciating annual loonfest put on by a bunch of Pentecostal Peter Pans, was moving to yet another venue. I also predicted that the honeymoon would be over as soon as the new venue sent the bill and Firestarter’s cheque inevitably bounced.
Seems I was wrong. Because the ill-fated couple didn’t even get as far as their shotgun wedding. From a Manxnet news item posted today (see http://www.manx.net/news/2478/firestarter-festival-moves-to-union-mills ) it looks like either Ardhwallan’s owner did a quick credit check or, being a little short of punters himself, has at least decided to cut his losses.
And Firestarter’s over-the-hill organisers seem to be doing the same judging from the new lower ticket price. Or maybe they just cannot sell any tickets and have resigned themselves to a couple of days of paunchy, ageing ’youth pastors’ playing alone sadly with their water pistols.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Things Can Only Get Better (sing along now...)

The lunatic fringe of the local Zombie Carpenter movement have another annual exercise in pointlessness on July 2nd.
It need not trouble the sane or rational amongst us, and as it involves getting up early probably won’t attract many Christians either - apart from a few die-hard masochists who are prepared to not only get up but stump up an admission fee.
Each year, as close to Tynwald Day as they can manage to pass it off as a tied event and roping in as many superstitious politicos as possible to pad out the delusion, these hopeless zealots hold a 'Prayer Breakfast' during which a Famous Faith-Head tells fairy stories.
Last year it was Richard Dannatt, who emphatically demonstrated why (with superstitious numpties like him running the show) so many British lives are being wasted and foreign civilians dying in the crossfire of pointless oil wars. This year it is John Lennox (see http://www.isleofman.com/News/article.aspx?article=36864), a notorious Oxford philosopher of science cum creationist with a book to market (two actually), as did Richard Dannatt last year.
The funniest thing is that, actually, there are excellent philosophical reasons why scientists need to acknowledge that ‘science’ is as much of a social construct or a ‘myth’ (in the sense of a self-perpetuating story whose ‘truth’ or ‘falsity’ are similarly irrelevant) as ‘religion’. Dawkins and his chums have great difficulty with this, so much so that they prefer to ignore it. But Lennox, as far as I know, has never explored this either, probably because he cannot without also acknowledging the mythical basis of religion, or religion’s primary purpose as a method of social control which discourages democracy or dissent.
Also, interestingly, much of the groundwork for this was set by Willard Van Orman Quine, an American philosopher of science and mathematician who was of Manx origin. As it happens, it may also be of interest to atheists that Quine supervised Daniel Dennett’s Ph.D.
In theory, this early morning pantomime is underwritten by 200 paying punters. In practice, most of the tickets are given away because faith leaders and politicians have to be there to foster the fantasy that it is an ‘important’ shindig involving the great and the good, and they never pay to impose their fatuousness on anyone.
After the event I am sure the press will be primed with reports of how important and popular it all was, especially amongst young people. As none of the press will actually be there, they will be unable to substantiate this.
But there is a fair comparison, because Brian Cox, physicist superstar and former pop musician (oh, you all know the guy, no need to outline his career to anyone) is also coming to talk to schoolkids around Tynwald Day (see http://www.isleofman.com/News/article.aspx?article=36822 for more). The difference is that Cox not only sold out within hours of his lecture being announced, but had substantial numbers of the local adult population clamouring for either a seat anywhere in the house or a repeat performance at a bigger venue we could all get to. Cox, I suggest, could fill Nobles Park at midnight on a wet winter day.
Now, funnily enough, us ‘militant atheists’ know that Cox blows Dawkins off stage at the annual New Humanist ‘Nine Carols for the Godless’ bash. He makes no big deal of his lack of religion, though he does politely dismiss creationist nonsense as the naive foolishness it is if asked.
His enthusiastic explanations of the mysteries of the universe work, on whatever level you care to consider them, without once dwelling on religion. They are simply more colourful, more complex, more satisfying and more truthful than any bible story.
Science (given half a chance) trumps Superstition every time, even on the Isle of Man. More colourful than Manx fairy lore, more logical, more interesting and more useful than Manx religion.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Nowhere to run to, Baby

Yes, I know, I haven’t blogged in a while. I could offer some feeble excuse, but the truth is I was off elsewhere having fun and I could not be bothered.
There is work, as in the unpleasant, done for the ungrateful in return for the stuff of which bills are paid, and then there is pleasure, shared free, gratis and for nothing with those I feel like sharing it with, when I feel like sharing it with them.
Look, my blog, done in my free time strictly for fun. As I keep saying, if you need more amusement, write your own.
Samuel Johnson may well have said that “no-one, except a blockhead, writes unless it be for money”, but in the 21st Century there are no blockheads offering to pay someone like me to write. Oddly enough though, I find it hard work reading anything contemporary produced by those who do get paid – sometimes lavishly – which is why recently I’ve taken to reading second hand books instead. Maybe Murdoch and his chums should pay the readers, not the writers, of this turgid twaddle. Until then, we should refuse to pay for it, and find ways to access the websites without racking up advertising.
But I had to giggle at this (see http://www.isleofman.com/News/article.aspx?article=36701) about Sentamu’s Apprentice going to Wales to play with Thomas the Tank Engine.
As keen observers of Manx tourist department bilge may know, he cannot play with it here because the Tourist Department cannot afford the licensing fees to run an event. Though even when the Bish was last photographed driving a Thomas train here one couldn’t help laughing at the irony.
We saw a clergyman, most of whose diocese does not exist, driving a train which serves no practical purpose dressed up for the day as another train from a work of fiction based on another C of E clergyman’s joke about one of the Bish’s predecessors – and particularly the non-existence of most of his diocese. Could you really make any of this up?
But maybe pontificating prelates could get fresh ideas from http://www.isleofman.com/News/article.aspx?article=36395 -a piece on the similarly non-existent Manx space industry.
When I read it for some reason I suddenly remembered Peter Sellers going to the Moon as the Reverend John Smallwood in Heavens Above , a 1963 film written by Malcolm Muggeridge, who went on to lend a hand to Mary Whitehouse’s Festival of Light cult and grumble about Life of Brian.
And I had a bright idea – well, bright by the standards of those pillocks in government who, not learning from our previous experience underwriting a Jurby airship that never flew, are now underwriting either new spaceships which will never get off the drawing board or old ones which will rust in a Jurby barn until the grants run out.
Manx evangelicals have a terrible predilection for ruining the lives of innocent people in poorer countries – or just stealing from them. I can never decide if we, the decent citizenry of the island, should get angry or just die of shame.
Alternatively, why not encourage them to follow John Smallwood into space?
An industry based around talking to the wall, led by freaks with monstrous egos who seem to have little difficulty parting the gullible from their savings? It ought to be a cinch.
Until then, we have to do something about these bozos instead of continuing to curl up in embarrassment every time they further inconvenience someone in another country run by crooks, charlatans and spook-fancying simpletons.
This, then, will be my contribution.
From this day, every time one of these nincompoops tells the Manx press about a ‘development program’ they are running, I will write a fulsome letter of apology on behalf of the Manx nation to the ambassador at the London embassy of the country concerned.
This is no idle threat. When some loathsome homophobes called the Christian Party started getting media coverage I discovered that their founder, a retired producer of gay anthems, ‘got religion’ on the island out of sheer boredom caused by our lack of any nightlife. From that point on, every time I see a mention of the Christian Party in any publication I write expressing regret on behalf of the entire Manx nation for any part we may have played, unwittingly or through sheer apathy, in the creation of this monster.
As I point out, we are one sad and sorry nation, but while this apology probably ought to come from our Chief Minister or the President of Tynwald, both are sad characters and neither appear to be capable of spelling the word ‘Sorry’.